Slate writer Seth Stevenson gives a pretty severe treatment to this Amstel Light ad this week:
Stevenson basically makes the point that, aside from a few key factors, all beer choice boils down to is marketing, which companies do arbitrarily and in spades:
By my reckoning, there are five valid, logical criteria for choosing one beer over another. 1) Flavor. 2) Calorie count. 3) Packaging (because who doesn’t love the functional advantages of wide-mouths, minikegs, tallboys, and forties?). 4) Alcohol content (because some beers get you drunk much faster than others). 5) The good or bad corporate citizenship of the brewer. Everything else is just meaningless imagery.
Well, of course it’s imagery, yes, but is it really meaningless? Stevenson correctly asserts that Corona, despite its million-year-old beach-themed ad campaign, is really not necessarily better suited to a day in the sun than, say, Heineken. But so what? Stevenson’s five criteria being equal (just say, for the sake of argument that they are between Heineken and Corona), wouldn’t you still rather have a Corona for your day at the beach? Simply because of the mental image of relaxation it will give you to go along with your actual day of leisure?
Similarly, if you have to decide between Pabst and Budweiser, assuming they’re equal along Stevenson’s criteria (they’re both cheap, watery brews made by giant corporations and taste like ass), wouldn’t you like to be able to choose between the one that makes you look like a hip urbanite/drug-addled trucker and the one that says, “I don’t care where my brew comes from?”
Stevenson is right that image, especially if it is generated by a massive corporate advertising campaign, is an illogical and unimportant factor on which to base a beer choice (or any other choice for that matter), but it’s unrealistic to think we can live in a vacuum if we want to. Image is not nothing, and image-consciousness is not going away any time soon.
The best thing you can do is not resist this image-influence, but own it: Find which brands you like, based on Stevenson’s five logical factors, then drink (for example) Pacifico at the beach, Heineken at the bar, Pabst at the rock show, Guinness when it’s cold out, and, because some advertising campaigns really are unconscionable, never, ever, ever drink Coors Light. Ever.